Published: July 9th 2007July 9th 2007
Last night, I arrived in India, though India has not yet arrived in me.
As I boarded the plane in Singapore for the final leg, it dawned on me that I knew absolutely nothing about India. Sure, I had heard and read that it was one of the most populous countries in the world, one of the fastest growing aside China, and the biggest democracy in the world with Hindis, Muslims and Buddhists all under the one roof. I knew the facts, the figures, the broad political situation, but beyond that, I realised I was clueless.
I sat staring out at the Christmas tree array of lights scattered on the ground in what was shaping up to be Delhi. Even minutes before hitting the tarmac, I was still struggling to make out whether the mayhem of abodes below were slums or palaces. Where exactly was I heading?
The answers starting to flow somewhat as I finally got out of the plane; the carpet tiles in the walkway towards the terminal were lifting at all ends; the air conditioning units looked as old as my grandmother; and all baggage from all flights was delayed due to difficulties with all conveyor belts from the minute specks of rain surfacing outside. Ha, I thought, I am definitely back in Asia. It seemed from the outset that there would be plenty of contrast ahead between the rich, developing business sector and the poor, basic living of what are still the hordes.
My anxieties of not finding the lovely young Aussie who was to pick me up from the airport faded very quickly - I had had visions of the Indira Gandhi Airport being as big and powerful as the likes of LA or Singapore, only with quadzillion times the people, and me being pulled along into unknown territory unable to turn or stop from the masses of Indians moving everywhere. I was glad to be able to say, not so. There was no pushing, no pulling, not even begging as we got out of the airport building. Everything was surprisingly easy and event-free.
The first night was a spoil; Gordon had checked into one of the big hotels in the city so that I wouldn't have to 'slum it' on arrival. We had a beautiful room with hot water, room service, buffet breakfast and a pool. Nice, nice. I was in India, but it all seemed like a bit of a dream, with privacy and the solitude of quiet. Strange. All I had heard was how much of a mayhem the country was, and here we were, not a soul to bother us, not a sound in our ears.
Today, after a late checkout and a lazy morning, we packed our bags and made the trek to JNU, the university with which Gordon is affiliating for his studies. Nothing really struck me as being much different to Cambodia or Vietnam, though the people seem more reserved and less pushy. The 'campus' seemed to me like a spread out littering of brick hostel-type buildings, grass overgrowing everywhere, young men in old shirts dotting the main road and surrounding greenland, talking vocally and strongly. Apparently there had been a hunger strike going on for the last while on campus, the strikers today into their ninth day without food. Fair enough, I thought. What are they striking for? Have there been killings or riots or something else entirely extreme? No, no, just an unfair dismissal case. They were 'voicing their opinion' of wanting the good man (I assume man) reinstated. And what an opinion it must be. Perhaps this country has much more to offer than first meets the eye; perhaps my eyes are not quite seeing yet?